Metal fabrication companies produce a wide range of products with varying complexities. The skills required to achieve the desired results for each can vary as widely as the types of projects being worked on, whether mechanical piping and ventilation for commercial applications or intricately complex electrical enclosures and hatches for naval vessels.
Most associate metal fabrication with the welding trade. Indeed, welding is a major role, and we’ll discuss that here. But there are numerous other types of metal fabrication jobs that can lead to very successful careers in the industry. Here are five to consider.
1. Precision Welders
2. Mechanical Engineers
3. CNC Operators
4. Project Managers
5. Painters and Finishers
There are welders who simply join metal parts together, and then there are precision welders who craft highly complex assemblies. Many welders complete several years of education to become adept at precision welding which typically accompanies a higher salary. Welders with generally good skills should still consider applying for available welding positions even if they don’t have the necessary experience or education.
That’s because training and certification education is often provided by the employer as part of a development plan. Many high schools, vocational schools or community colleges offer welding programs as well, and it’s preferred to have some experience and foundational training.
Different skillsets are required based on the type of welding being performed, such as MIG vs. TIG welding. TIG welding requires much more precision and skill than MIG welding and can produce extremely tight tolerances. Duties might include hand-welding, flame-cutting, use of brazing equipment, and others. They also need to be able to read work orders, design drawings, and detailed instructions to comply with a customer’s design.
Ideal precision welding candidates have high attention to detail, patience, and a keen sense of artistry. At Fox Valley Metal-Tech, we consider our precision welders to be industrial artists. Welders have to be on their A game, take pride in what they do, and hold a steady hand. Tolerances as tight as 00.0010-inch are often required on Department of Defense projects, and not everyone has the patience or skill to achieve those results.
Designing complex weldments and assemblies requires highly skilled engineers. Oftentimes, a metal fabrication shop will receive drawings and specifications designed by the customer’s own engineers. Onsite engineers at the fabrication company are still necessary to review drawings, convert them into workable documents, and provide Design for Manufacturability (DfM) reviews. Engineers also design jigs and fixtures used during the building process to prevent weld shrinkage and maintain tight tolerances.
Metal fabrication engineers also need a deep understanding of how materials perform under various conditions, their tensile strength, potential for warpage, and other factors. They will help develop weld mapping to outline processes because not everything on paper translates to real life applications. They often watch for overengineering mistakes or excessive use of GD&T (Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing). If such issues are detected, they will work with the customer to address any issues.
Mechanical or Manufacturing engineers for metal fabrication typically have an associates, bachelor’s degree or higher and are proficient in CAD design (Solidworks, AutoCad, etc.). They also possess strong problem solving and communication skills, and need to work closely with welders and customers to ensure compliance.
There are numerous types of computerized numerical control (CNC) equipment, with some machines costing millions of dollars. While much of the equipment is automated, it is only as good as the operator. Skilled workers are still needed to set up, program, and operate them.
CNC operators also need to be able to interpret complex manufacturing drawings, blueprints, and specifications and then select proper tooling to achieve the desired design. They must also keep a watchful eye to identify non-conformances and document them, should they occur.
Experience using milling machines for highly complex fabrications is often preferred over education, but an associates degree in machining is helpful. Experience using Haas and/or FANUC controls is also a plus, as is strong mechanical and raw materials knowledge.
Project managers are typically part of a team that guides a project through to completion and are the glue that holds it together. They are involved early in the bidding and RFQ process to help determine whether a project is a good fit and provide insights into capacity, scheduling, and their team’s ability to perform the work as stated.
Those who work as a project manager need to be proficient in using enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to see activities in real time and proactively address potential issues. In addition to technical skills and industry knowledge, they also need strong interpersonal and communication skills when working with teammates to determine next steps, and need to act decisively to address any problems. Project managers will help prepare for inspections, gather supporting documentation and certificate records, and be well versed in flow down requirements.
Education typically includes a bachelor’s degree in engineering or equivalent experience working in the metal fabrication industry. They also need to be strong advocates for safety and organization of the shop floor.
Industrial painters and finishers are responsible for applying paint, powder coating, or other metal fabrication finishes on parts or completed assemblies. These technicians require an understanding of various coatings such as enamels, epoxies, urethanes, and military coatings and how they adhere to various metals.
Precision and consistency are key in such a position, as many precision fabrication projects have strict tolerances on paint thickness and masking. Painting and finishing can be challenging, making a person with excellent hand-eye coordination and attention to detail an ideal candidate. While advanced education may not be required, an ability to read manufacturing blueprints and demonstrate basic computer skills are helpful. Most metal fabrication shops will provide training for their specialized applications.
There are numerous other metal fabrication industry jobs, including inspectors, assemblers, material handlers, as well as administrative positions in HR, accounting, and others.
When considering where a career might take you, also look at a company’s leadership, the types of projects they work on, and whether their entire facility, including the shop floor, is climate controlled. When a company cares for its employees, it’s a reflection of how much care and pride they put into their work.
While education and experience are desirable for many positions at a metal fabrication company, there’s something to be said for pure determination and natural skills that are conducive to such a working environment. Being a team player is one of the most desirable traits that potential employers look for. At a precision metal fabrication shop, everyone who touches a project needs to work together and take pride in their work, knowing that every little action impacts the next person in line.
If you’re considering a career with a growing precision metal fabrication company and want to work in a dynamic environment in Northeast Wisconsin, check out our available positions. When you work at Fox Valley Metal-Tech, you can take pride knowing that you’re a part of something bigger, helping to produce critical projects for our nation’s defense department as well as commercial applications.